A Writer’s Inspiration

My grandmother’s second wedding was in October of 1977 when she was seventy-five. Unfortunately, my husband and I were students living in Vancouver at the time with insufficient funds to afford plane tickets for the big event. We sent a telegram with our congratulations in advance – the custom in those days for guests who could not attend – then telephoned my parents’ home at the time when the reception was scheduled in order to talk to the bride and groom.

Imagine us hearing the stunning news that my grandmother had died of a massive heart attack on the way to the church!

Reeling with shock, Ian and I went for a long walk before deciding that I would fly to Toronto that night on the red-eye flight to be with my family, attend my grandmother’s funeral, help deal with condolences and pick up the pieces. Over the years, I’ve come to think of her death with gratitude for how happy she was when it occurred. And I always thought it would make an amazing ending for a story.

However, writers are not always masters of their stories. In my case, it was my son’s friend Ashley, who made the difference. She agreed to read the first draft of Unravelled. She was an ideal reader, an English major and a woman of twenty-five who could give me insights into whether younger women would enjoy the story while at the same time providing useful editorial feedback. Ashley hated the ending.

I still remember her comments, written in large, underlined capital letters “YOU CAN’T LET HER DIE!!! IT’S TOTALLY UNSATISFYING.”

Well, the rest, as they say, is history! Unravelled does not end with a death. Instead it ends with hope. I won’t say anything more in case you decide to give it a try.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

The Paris Deception by David O. Stewart

As a lawyer, David O. Stewart argued before juries, judges, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. Supreme Court.  Now, he writes history and historical novels, looking for the people behind the stories, and for the stories that have been missed or misunderstood. In his novel The Paris Deception, he brings to light the aftermath of World War One, the people involved, the wheeling and dealing that set in motion circumstances that continue to affect us today.

History can help us formulate useful questions and prompt warnings about our own times. This is the case with The Paris Deception. Through the characters of President Woodrow Wilson, French Premier Georges Clemenceau, and British Prime Minister David Lloyd George we gain insight on the conflicting values of countries, on the complexities of building peace, and on the weight of great responsibility. We see the United States in its ascendancy, Britain as its empire begins to fade, and the total collapse of Germany.

There have been many WWI novels: stories of families torn apart, the chaos and horror of war, the ineptitude of leaders, the longing for home; stories of intense camaraderie, unfaltering duty and heroism; stories of tragic loss and lives forever and devastatingly altered.

But what do we know about the peace process that followed WWI? Which leaders led the way or blocked the path to some sort of justice? Which borders changed and why? Which new countries were created? Which special interests were served? How did the conditions of peace sow the seeds for WWII and beyond? The Paris Deception is this novel.

I had the privilege of writing a foreword to The Paris Deception, which relaunched yesterday and asked David a few questions about the story.

What or who was the inspiration for your main characters James Fraser and Speed Cook?

Both characters were drawn from history, though they are only dimly recorded. The first book in this series – The Lincoln Deception – begins with a Delphic deathbed disclosure by former Congressman John Bingham of Cadiz, Ohio, to his doctor, concerning the John Wilkes Booth Conspiracy. So I decided that the small-town doctor, James Fraser, who heard that deathbed disclosure would become obsessed with it, and become one of my protagonists. I wanted him to have a co-investigator, which allows different personalities, and different talents, to be applied to the case. I discovered a fascinating contemporary figure, Moses Fleetwood Walker, who came from nearby Steubenville and was the last African-American to play in organized baseball between the 1880s and Jackie Robinson. Walker (the real person) was an aggressive “race man” who challenged the triumphant Jim Crow culture of the era. I thought he would make a fascinating foil and complement, rechristened Speed Cook, to my small-town doctor (James Fraser).

In light of today’s momentous support for Black Lives Matter, what aspects of the treatment of black Americans during World War One stand out for you?

I had a number of opportunities for the story to highlight the terrible wrongs inflicted on African-Americans then – and still today. Speed Cook’s son serves in an all-black unit known as the Harlem Hellfighters, but all the officers had to be white, and the American general staff didn’t want to use these soldiers at all. Consequently, that unit ended up fighting under French army command, and earning high distinction. Cook’s son, Joshua, also falls victim to a racist prosecution for desertion, while Cook himself is working with W.E.B. Du Bois, who came to Paris during the 1919 peace conference to be part of the Pan-African Congress. Finally, I was able to portray President Woodrow Wilson’s racism in private settings. Wilson grew up in Georgia after the Civil War and had the racist attitudes of that time and place, right down to the “darky” jokes he liked to tell.

Weaving real and fictional characters is a challenge for historical fiction authors. Why did you choose the real characters you did choose and how did you preserve authenticity?

The Paris Peace Conference offers a smorgasbord of fabulous historical characters. To give a grounding in the swirling negotiations of the peace conference, the story features cameo appearances by W.E.B. Du Bois, Winston Churchill, Chaim Weizmann, and Mark Sykes (of the hideous Sykes-Picot Treaty that whacked up the Middle East between France and Britain). More fully integrated into the story are marvelous characters like T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) and French Premier Georges Clemenceau (one of my favorites). Three central characters for the story are President Wilson and two of his aides, the brothers Allen Dulles (future head of the CIA and a spy during World War I) and John Foster Dulles (future Secretary of State and an important figure in the American delegation). In pursuit of authenticity, I studied contemporary photographs of each, listened to voice recordings if they were available, and read contemporary accounts of the impressions they made on people.

Through the fictional characters of The Paris Deception, we also experience the war in flashback, understand the devastation brought about by the Spanish Flu, and feel the agony of having a son go off to war. Beyond being a wonderful story, The Paris Deception is history that is highly relevant for today.

The Paris Deception by David O. Stewart ~~ In the wake of The Great War, the city of Paris unites in jubilant celebration at the arrival of United States President, Woodrow Wilson. But amidst the prospect of peace, Parisians are dying as the Spanish influenza reaches epidemic proportions.

An expert on the deadly illnesses, Dr. Major Jamie Fraser, is called in to advise the president’s own doctor on how best to avoid the deadly disease and discovers, despite Wilson’s robust appearance, the man is frailer than most realize.

While trying to determine the source of Wilson’s maladies, Fraser encounters a man he has not seen for nearly twenty years: Speed Cook–ex-professional ball player and now advocate for Negro rights. Cook is also desperate to save his son Joshua, an army sergeant wrongly accused of desertion.

Pledging to help Cook, Fraser approaches Allen Dulles, an American spy, who is also Wilson’s close aide.

Soon Cook and Fraser’s quest intersects with dramatic events when the French premier, Georges Clemenceau, narrowly survives an assassination attempt, and the Paris Peace Convergence begins to unravel.

When the precarious German government balks at the grim terms of the peace treaty, Cook and Fraser discover that to save Joshua, they must find a way to preserve the fragile treaty, which may be the only barrier standing between Europe and another brutal war.

You can also read about The Lincoln Deception

DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION. FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

In Flanders Fields by Jess Lederman

I’m welcoming Jess Lederman to the blog today. After his wife’s was diagnosed with ALS, Jess left the business world behind and moved with her to Alaska. “There we looked out on the glory of God’s creation and read to our heart’s content during the last two years of her life.” This tragedy led to Hearts Set Free which opens in the Alaska Territory in 1925. 

In Flanders Fields by Jess Lederman

We writers of historical fiction have wonderful opportunities to incorporate settings that provide instant drama and to feature fascinating real-life characters. I love to see the ways in which writers use those opportunities and I try to make the most of them in my own writing.  For example, a horrific historical event on the killing fields of the First World War provides a dramatic backdrop to introduce and explore important themes in my novel Hearts Set Free.

One of the story’s historical characters, Georges Lemaître, who was both a physicist and a Roman Catholic priest, is not very well known to the general public (even though, as the father of the Big Bang theory, he was one of the greatest scientists of all time!). What would be the most compelling way to introduce him to readers?

Well, it so happens that Lemaître fought on the front lines of Flanders Fields during World War I and witnessed one of the first uses of poison gas in combat. What’s more dramatic than that? I employed some literary license to have the young Lemaître injure his leg, so that he needs to be rescued by one of my fictional heroes, Bible-school dropout David Gold. We get to know the two characters as they talk in an abandoned trench, waiting for the cover of darkness to rejoin their unit and hoping that the Germans will not again unleash their dreaded chlorine gas.

The horror of chemical warfare provides an opportunity for the characters to discuss matters close to both of their hearts—God’s sovereignty, and how His goodness can be reconciled with the existence of abject evil—important topics in the novel:

We came to reinforce the French position after the slaughter,” said Lemaître. “They say over five thousand French and Canadian died; I think closer to ten. You could see that men had clawed their own faces, trying to breathe; some had shot themselves to escape the agony. Nothing had survived; not the horses, chickens, rabbits, or rats. Everywhere I looked there was only death. And the strange scent of the chlorine gas, like pineapple and pepper, lingering on the few bushes that were left.

“What drives me to my wits end,” said David, “is how to reconcile something so evil with the sovereignty of God. Those men who were gassed—did He dream their tortured deaths before the beginning of the world?

Nothing evil is of God. He gave us the gift of free will, that we might love—love each other and love Him. This gift came with an incalculable cost; for it allowed sin, our sin, and that could be dealt with only by the Cross. Yet will He bring about good from every act of evil, even from all of this—” Lemaître gestured to the devastated landscape that lay beyond their trench— “and there, David, you find the sovereignty of God. Most of all, He is Emmanuel, He is with us; He is the fourth in the furnace. He is right here, with you and me, even now.

I always look for first-person accounts when I’m doing historical research, and the passage above is a good example of how useful this can be. It’s the details which Lemaître provides about the aftermath of the gas attack—details I found from the tales of soldiers who had witnessed this infamous episode–that make this passage particularly compelling.

One of the themes of Hearts Set Free is how passages from Scripture—especially the Psalms–can be used as prayer in response to life’s challenges, great and small. In Flanders Fields, while they’re waiting for nightfall, David and Georges at first deal with stress by fantasizing about their favorite foods. But after they discover their shared passion for Scripture, the two begin exchanging passages from the Psalms:

“The cords of the grave entangled me, the snares of death confronted me.”David felt himself filling with a strange joy as he gave voice to the ancient words. “In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple He heard my voice, and my cry to Him, reached his ears.”

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”Lemaître, too, seemed joyful. “The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

“Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.” How grateful he was, David thought, that the Lord has led him to commit these words to his memory, to his heart. “Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord!  I have fled to you for refuge.”

“Indeed, our lives are hidden with Christ in God,” said Lemaître. “But listen. Something has changed.”

From the French and Belgian lines came the sounds of distant shouting. David peered over the top of the trench; from the German lines, against the clear blue April sky, were coming billowing clouds of green-gray death.

The intensity of trench warfare and the drama of a poison gas attack are captivating in and of themselves, but in this case also serve the purpose of introducing two of the novel’s themes in what I hope is a convincing and compelling manner.

Many thanks, Jess. World War One is a topic of great importance to me. I’m sure many, many soldiers drew strength from their faiths during that horrific war.

Hearts Set Free by Jess Lederman weaves together three tales of men and women who journey from the darkness of doubt to triumphant faith and from the ache of loneliness to everlasting love.
In 1930, the rag-tag riffraff of a railway stop called Las Vegas need a fighting man to shepherd their tiny church after their pastor is murdered. Might David Gold, a washed-up boxer and Bible-school dropout who fights as the Pummelin’ Preacher, be the answer to their prayers?

At the same time, Luke, a native Alaskan boy, is on a quest to find his father, who has abandoned his family for a beautiful woman his mother vows to kill. Little do mother or son imagine that their journey will take them to a small town in Nevada where demons and angels walk among men.

In 2011,Science Cable T.V. producer Tim Faber is determined to prove that mankind has no need of God, while his lover, Joan Reed, strives to regain the faith of her youth. They’re bound for Las Vegas to meet with 99-year-old Luke,who holds the key to a mystery they must solve–and answers that will forever change their lives.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.